Saturday, November 20, 2010

Superman: Earth One

When I heard about this project a number of months ago, it simultaneously intrigued and frustrated me.  The story of how Clark Kent leaves Smallville, goes to Metropolis and becomes the world's greatest hero has been told and re-told a number of times before in multiple media and historical periods.  The past 9 1/2 seasons of Smallville, have milked this concept for all it is worth and then some.  Why tell the same story all over again?  Given the fact that Geoff Johns and Gary Frank have been telling it over the past year in Superman: Secret Origin within the current continuity of the DC Universe, what possible reason could there be to tell it in an alternate continuity? 

On the other hand, J. Michael Straczynski (JMS) is definitely one of the very best writers in comics today.  Read his work on Silver Surfer: Requiem, and the first story-lines of Thor's current incarnation that he wrote back in 2007 and one comes to the conclusion that this is a guy who has a unique voice, something to say, and he knows how to write a compelling superhero story.

Then there was some of the promotional artwork that DC released over the year.  This image from artist Shane Davis was enough to get me all excited.

Finally, the format is relatively untapped in comics.  Instead of telling the story in monthly periodicals, the Earth One project tells it in one long-form book.  Normally, when you pick up a graphic novel, you are buying four to six monthly installments that have been collected into one edition.  This means that each story is really four to six little stories, each with their own plot arc within a larger plot arc.  In other words, you can count on a cliffhanger every 22 pages.  I definitely wanted to see what JMS would do when freed from the 22-page per chapter restrictions in traditional comics.  The longer format alone might not have convinced me, but combined with the writer and the artist, I was determined to get this book and pre-ordered it on Amazon.

I am happy to report that I was not disappointed.  JMS has written an interpretation on Clark Kent and his decision to become Superman which is deep, introspective, and resonant.  The tone is defined by the fact that this is the youngest Superman anyone has ever presented to us.  Clark is 20 years old when he arrives in Metropolis.  His plan is to get a job in the big city and fit in - something which has eluded him for most of his life.  This is what he wants to do, but through the use of flashbacks to his youth with his ma and pa, we discover that this is not what his parents think he should do.  In this version, the Kents are the ones who see Clark's purpose most clearly, and encourage him to be who he is supposed to be.  He comes around eventually, and reveals himself to the world when the alien Tyrell invades the earth, and threatens its complete destruction if the last surviving Kryptonian refuses to surrender.  Big surprise here: Superman saves the day, defeats the genocidal alien invader, and is revealed to the world in the process.  Finally, Clark Kent, now complete with glasses and "mild-mannered" persona, arrives at the Daily Planet with the world's first exclusive interview with Superman.

From what I've read in interviews with the people at DC Comics, Superman: Earth One will be an ongoing series; sort of a comic book version of the Harry Potter and Twilight book series.  I could not be happier.  The long format worked wonderfully.  JMS gave us an interesting new take on Superman, and left all sorts of unanswered questions, while delivering a complete story.  The artwork was spot-on.  Shane Davis needs to be given credit for the most realistic version of Metropolis that I've ever seen.  I'm not necessarily a fan of a smaller, younger Superman, but I can't fault Davis for his the execution. 

The fact that DC has had to crank out a second and third printing of Superman: Earth One is completely justified by this book.  It is great.  I recently read that DC was pulling JMS off of his writing duties on the monthly Superman comic book to begin working on the follow-up immediately.  That is great news.  I can't wait.

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